Sunday 28 September 2008

Rain at Last

The skies have finally opened. We had a few drops the day before yesterday, but they could hardly be called rain. In fact, in most countries, the event would have gone completely unnoticed. It lasted about 3 minutes and hardly even wet the ground. But in an area where there has been no precipitation at all, not even a tiny drop, for more than 5 months, this was a momentous event. The schoolchildren came pouring out of their classrooms to run about in the "rain" and to experience the unique feeling of being outdoors and getting wet. What excitement there was.

This was followed yesterday by a slightly heavier and more extended downpour, probably 10 minutes in all. This could qualify as rain, and maybe even as the "yoreh". As far as I know, Hebrew is the only language which has a unique word to describe the first rains of the season - yoreh. And, in a region where rains are almost as unique as the peace that we desperately seek, it is very appropriate to have a special word that serves to add the desired importance to this much anticipated event.

You may recall reading in my previous blog, The Water Conundrum, about the predictions that taps would run dry in Israel during the summer of 2008. Well, they did not. Many regard this as a miracle. But this country is a water miracle. How we manage to survive each year with seemingly lower and lower rainfall, and higher and higher demand is nothing short of miraculous. In my previous blog, I was critical of the way in which the authorities have managed, or mismanaged, this summer's drought. And yet, without any drama, fanfare or significant rationing programs, we seem to be at the end of the danger period. This is a miracle.

True, we cannot suddenly celebrate the end of the drought on the basis of a few drops of rain that were hardly sufficient to water the garden. But this does hopefully signal the end to the dry season, and the start to a rainy season that will rival that of 1991/2.

As I previously mentioned, the summer of 1991 saw Israel's primary water source, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) drop to 214.87 metres below sea level. This is agonisingly close to the level of 215 metres below sea level when all pumping from the Kinneret would be halted. All the water experts agreed that it would require approximately 10 years of above-average rainfall to fill the Kinneret from that low point. And yet, during the rainy season that followed, the Kinneret was filled to the brim. In fact, there was even a requirement to open the sluice gates to prevent the Kinneret from running over. Whilst this is remarkable, what is even more remarkable is that this happened without major flooding of any type. Being able to absorb the equivalent of 10 years of above-average rainfall in one season without any flooding or disaster can only be described as a miracle.

When measured about two months ago, the level of water in the Kinneret reached 213.38 metres below sea level. At its low point this year, it will not be too far off the low level in 1991. When the traditional Jewish prayer for rain begins in about three weeks' time, we will be praying for an additional miracle in the rainy season of 2008/9. In addition to praying for enough rain to fill the Kinneret, we will also require sufficient rains to fill both the coastal and the mountain aquifers. Despite the good rains of 1991/2, there was not sufficient to replenish the supplies in the aquifers. As a result, the aquifer levels are lower than they have been previously, and in danger of permanent damage due to over pumping.

Those people who do not believe in miracles require only a short visit to Israel to be convinced that the fact that we manage to get by in spite of the way in which the water resource is handled can be nothing short of miraculous. We hope and pray that these miracles continue. Perhaps the new miracle will be that the relevant authorities will be more proactive in managing our most scarce and precious resource.

I suppose we can only pray for so many miracles!

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